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I’m not quite sure how the last two weeks slipped by without a post, but it’s sure not for lack of things to write about.  I spent a few days in California visiting Bronwen and Kate, and came back with lots of pictures of Linnea and some of the grown-ups in the kitchen, which is where we quite happily spent a lot of our time.  (I still need to go through the pictures and upload the best of the bunch.)  Bronwen and I caught up on some Long Distance Kitchen recipes that we’d both neglected and we shopped for unusual grains, and at Kate’s we were treated to tuna that Keith caught, fresh chanterelles and enormous oysters, and of course some extremely local bacon (as in, from their pigs).

I’ve also neglected to talk about all the mock awards I’m going to this year – I’ve done one or two each year for the past few years, but this year I’m doing the triumvirate of mock awards: Mock Newbery, Mock Caldecott, and Mock Printz.  Hooray!  I love mock awards.  The tricky part is making sure you squeeze in all the books around the rest of your reading.  Fortunately the Mock Printz isn’t until January, and the Mock Caldecott books are short.  Here are the lists for anyone who’s curious or wants to follow along at home:

Mock Newbery

  • The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan. Illustrated by Peter Sis. Scholastic, 2010.
  • Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. Dutton, 2010
  • The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Balzer & Bray, 2010.
  • The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrated by Angela Barrett. Candlewick, 2010.
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. HarperCollins, 2010.
  • They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
  • Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen. Wendy Lamb, 2010.

I’ve read them all except They Called Themselves the KKK (which is also on the Mock Printz list), but so far I’ve only written about the ones I linked above.  My favorite so far is still One Crazy Summer (and I recently finished listening to the audio version and thought it was even better on rereading).  I’m also partial to The Night Fairy and I’d vote for The Dreamer, too.

Mock Printz

  • They Called Themselves The K.K.K.: The Birth Of An American Terrorist Group. Bartoletti, Susan Campbell.
  • Spies Of Mississippi: The True Story Of The Spy Network That Tried To Destroy The Civil Rights Movement. Bowers, Rick
  • Incarceron. Fisher, Catherine
  • Finnikin Of The Rock. Marchetta, Melina
  • As Easy As Falling Off the Face Of The Earth. Perkins, Lynne Rae
  • Fever Crumb. Reeve, Philip.
  • Revolver. Sedgwick, Marcus.
  • The Last Summer Of The Death Warriors. Stork, Francisco X.
  • Nothing. Teller, Janne
  • A Conspiracy Of Kings. Turner, Megan Whalen. (I actually never wrote about this book – WHAT? – but what I said about the rest of the series holds true for this one.)

I still need to read Nothing, Revolver, As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth, Spies of Mississisppi, and They Called Themselves the KKK. In an ideal world, I would also reread A Conspiracy of Kings and Finnikin of the Rock, although not back-to-back like I did initially (Finnikin suffered).  While it would take a miracle for anything to supplant COK in my affections, I do owe Finnikin a fair shot.  I also just got Incarceron on audio – I don’t know if I’ll listen to the whole thing, but I wanted to have it a little fresher in my mind before the discussion and before Sapphique comes out at the end of December.  In a flash of brilliance, I just put the audio version of Finnikin on hold, and hopefully I can squeeze that in.

Mock Caldecott (I left this list at work, but let me see if I can remember it)

  • City Dog, Country Frog
  • Mama Miti
  • Dave the Potter
  • Paris in the Spring with Picasso
  • Henry in Love
  • Dust Devil
  • Art & Max
  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain
  • The Boss Baby

I’m sure I’m forgetting one, but my mind is blank.  Right now my favorite is City Dog, Country Frog – not only because I just plain love it, but also because I it’s most effective at being a picture book.  I mean, I can pore over the illustrations in Mama Miti or admire the genius of Art & Max, but neither of these has that seemingly effortless combination of pictures, text and story.  The award is for “the most distinguished American picture book” and to me, this one fits the bill.  Some of the others might have more extraordinary illustrations, but this is a picture book that really has “a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.”  And yes, I don’t think it’s in the criteria but I’ll admit a preference for books that make good read-alouds.

I keep having dreams about book award announcements.  I’m either transcribing the results or I’ve slept through them.  Why can’t my brain figure out which day it is?  Or at least accurately convey the results to me via a prophetic dream?  That would be fun.  As it is, they just make me feel anxious.

Part of it is that I’ve been charged with ordering any books that my library doesn’t already own, and ordering duplicates of the Newbery and Caldecott winners.  Because Monday is a holiday, the library is closed.  And because the library is closed, our catalog is getting an upgrade that day, while no one needs to use it.  Except ME who wants to get an order in pronto, especially if there are some obscure winners and everyone is scrambling for copies.  And if I can’t see the catalog, I don’t know what I need to order (I’m up on what’s in my section – juv fiction – but not necessarily picture books and non-fiction).  Which means I wait till Tuesday.  And yes, that annoys me profoundly.

On the other hand, I could get up at 4:45 am for the awards and send in an order from home before the catalog goes down at 6:30 am.  HAHAHA.  That’s a good one.  I don’t even know if I’d trust myself to place an order at that hour of the morning, even if I were up.

In other news, my reading has been a little scattered this week.  I finished up Ballad (oh, the snark!  How I love thee!)  I was quite taken by the Morris finalist Hold Still – I kept thinking of Thirteen Reasons Why, because I felt like HS did everything right that TRW did wrong.  Sad, but still lovely.  Then I picked up another Morris finalist, Flash Burnout, which coincidentally also involves photography as a major theme in the story, and which I was intrigued to find out is written by a fellow Portlander and is set in Portland – I came across a street name and immediately had to check the author bio.  Plus, it has a nice sense of place so far – it’s not just set here for the sake of giving it a real location.

Yesterday I real the Mock Printz title All the Broken Pieces in two sittings – I thought it was excellently done and I’m curious to hear how it fares in dicussions (this afternoon!)  I kind of read the last MP title over breakfast – The Eternal Smile.  Which is to say, I read the first story and the last story, and artwork in the middle story is so off-putting to me that I kind of gave up.  After my experiences at the first Mock Newbery I went to (the year Criss Cross won), I never expect other people to have the same reaction as I did – because I couldn’t finish Criss Cross for the discussion, and people at the MN raved about it.  So.  I’m looking forward to the discussion.

In audio land, I finished up Once Was Lost – a fantastic book, I wish it were part of our Mock Printz discussion – and started listening to the full-cast Graceling (because audio books are a great excuse to reread).

I also went a little crazy one night and started Leaving the Bellweathers, one of those juv titles I ordered and then wanted to read and have had sitting on my shelf for ages.  And because I finished All the Broken Pieces before my lunch break was over yesterday, I started another title in that category – Escape Under the Forever Sky – which I’d had sitting on my shelf at work.  The non-fiction that I’m planning on reading has been sadly neglected, and I even added to the pile by picking up Jim Murphy’s Truce, which I’m really looking forward to.

Whew!  Now it’s time to get ready to meet fellow book nerd Kitri for lunch before we head to the Mock Printz.  Back with results later!

The Miles Between The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson

Engrossing and compelling and mildly suspenseful while I read it, this one didn’t have quite the same staying power as The Adoration of Jenna Fox. It would be an interesting one to reread right away, to see all the clues and foreshadowing for what they really are. The whole story is pretty tightly constructed and kept me guessing until just before the reveal. However, the characters don’t stick in my mind as much as the tone of the book. It’s full of improbably coincidences as the characters wish for one fair day, and it’s fun to see how things work out. Recommended to anyone who wants a YA book that’s a little quirky, a little realistic, with a line of suspense running through the story.

However, I don’t think it will be getting one of my votes come Mock Printz time. It’s a good book, but doesn’t stand out from the others on the list as being really distinguished.

View all my reviews >>

Another title from the Mock Printz list – I’ve only got two more to read, The Eternal Smile and All the Broken Pieces.  Review of The Miles Between coming soon.

Crazy Beautiful Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I was expecting something slightly different – I’d heard the premise, and I expected lots of darkness, and more fairy tale overtones, and more longing and angst and romance. Instead, some of those elements became secondary to a high school story about choosing who want to be, how you will face the world, etc. Sure, that corresponds to the Beauty and the Beast story in some ways, but this is more a story that happens to have those dynamics than a book that I would press on anyone who loves fairy tale retellings.

So then the question is, does this succeed at telling a good coming of age, high school story? On some levels it does – the alternating points of view paint a picture of high school in all its cruelty and shallowness, as well as those moments where you see the light and connect with someone. There were a few times when the dialogue or details pulled me out of the story, and I found myself was wishing the story had gone a bit darker, because a more melodramatic tone in the story makes me more forgiving of not-quite-believable dialogue. The characters are sophomores, and it’s really a story more about first love than passion.

I was left wanting to know more – about what Lucius was like before he lost his hands, because I never got a solid feel for that. Still, I think this would appeal to kids who don’t really want a dark story, but want just a hint of darkness and tragedy and self-destruction, and I think it would appeal to both boys and girls, because Lucius came across to me as a bigger character despite the balance between the two points of view.

View all my reviews >>

Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 by John Barnes

This is a big book – figuratively and literally – and it’s hard to know where to start. It’s one of those books where you completely buy into the world of the story – it’s character driven, and you never doubt for a moment that this is how they would act or think. But because it feels so real, it’s that much more difficult to read. Each of the high schoolers is so painfully messed up, each family has so many issues. It never reads like a problem novel, partly because it’s so well crafted and partly because there are so many problems that it would be hard to sum up the issues in a simple sentence. It’s a book about teenage alcoholics. It’s a book about abuse, neglect, alcoholic parents, trying to get out of a small town, violence, therapy, the social worlds of high school. It’s not really about romance as much as the desire for, er, romance. And when I say romance…let’s just say that the book is frank about a lot of things. Substance abuse, sex, cussing, violence – it doesn’t try to pretty things up. It does have a surprisingly happy ending, which at first felt a bit pat and easy. But as I thought it over, I realized that the book just happens to take place over a few days when a corner is turned in Karl’s life. They start out as fairly ordinary days, the first of his senior year, but they turn out to be significant days. Mixed into all of this are the stories – the tales of the Madman Underground – that introduce the reader to the characters and their history. It’s a combination that works well, and while the book is not an easy read, it moves along quickly considering the length. This one will definitely be interesting to discuss at the Mock Printz workshop – I just hope that everyone else manages to work their way through the whole thing. View all my reviews >>

If I Stay (Audio CD) If I Stay by Gayle Forman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What’s the appeal of sad books, anyway? Why do some of us find it cathartic to have a nice weep over a story? Why is a teenager on the brink of choosing life or death after a terrible accident so compelling? Here, part of the appeal is that it’s tightly told. It’s heartbreaking but never maudlin, as Mia weaves reminiscences into the story of the accident. The flashbacks feel natural, connecting in small ways to what’s happening in the hospital without feeling too perfectly matched. There’s enough backstory to feel like you know Mia and her family, as well and her boyfriend and her best friend, but not so much that is distracts from the central question – will she stay? While I personally never doubted how it would end, the story of how she reaches that conclusion is compelling.

One relatively minor quibble with the story, which was probably made worse by the fact that I listened to the audio version. Kirsten Potter did an excellent job reading the story – she sounded like a teenager, and the quality of her voice matched what we know about Mia’s personality. Most of the story works well as a listening experience, especially the dramatic moments in the accident when you might be tempted to flip ahead a few pages in the print version. But the dialogue – oh, the poor dialogue! At first I blamed Kirsten, but then I realized that she was doing the best she could with what was on the page. The lines sometimes feel put into the characters’ mouths – especially Mia’s parents. They felt almost precocious, like Forman was trying too hard to make them hip and savvy and bright. Teddy suffered a bit, too, as well as some family friends. The teenagers, thankfully, felt more natural, but I’d be curious to hear if anyone else found the dialogue distracting.

On the whole, a moving story that avoids too much sentimentality, and recommended to high school girls, in particular, who like that sort of thing – although it’s not too girly, so I imagine it has a male audience, too.

View all my reviews >>

I’m going to yet another Mock Printz in January (and a Mock Newbery, but more on that later).  This is my…fourth?  I starting going in 2007, which doesn’t seem all that long ago, but 2007, 2008, 2009, and this one will be 2010.  Okay, I can count!

Here’s this year’s reading list:

Links are to my reviews here.  I just finished listening to If I Stay, so I’ll have a review up soon.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wintergirls pick up the award (mock and/or real) in January – the writing is really excellent – but gosh, I just didn’t like it.  I know that’s not an award criteria, but I’d rather see Marcelo or North of Beautiful get a shiny sticker.  Although I almost want to reread those two to see how they hold up, after I’ve read the rest of the list.  Perhaps on audio – Marcelo, at least, is out on audio.

I enjoyed Heroes of the Valley, but I would never have considered it for the Printz.  Maybe because it felt a bit younger to me, or just because it didn’t have that ‘wow’ quality, I’m not sure.  I’m looking forward to the discussion on that one.

Now it’s time to get cracking on the rest of the list – I’ve of Madman Underground on my shelf, and it’s enormous.  I’m looking forward to the Mary Pearson, since I loved The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and Crazy Beautiful sounds really interesting but hasn’t come into the library yet.  I’ll keep updating as I read through the list.

Yes, I’m alive and still reading, although you wouldn’t know it from this blog.  I’m weeks – WEEKS – away from being a real librarian, if the Lord is willing and the creeks don’t rise (or whatever that saying is).  Actually, there is a creek nearby that flooded recently, and floods closed off parts of I-5 a few weeks ago and made it tricky for many of my fellow future-librarians to get to residencies in Seattle.  Fortunately I did not have to go up this quarter (100% online classes), and the nearby creek was is no danger of flooding my house.

Hmm, was I going somewhere with that?  I went to all these fabulous mock awards workshops recently (you know how I love mock awards) – a Printz and a Caldecott.  And the real announcements are only a few days away!  And then we can start making predictions for next year!  Just kidding.  If I weren’t exhausted and lazy, I’d get up off the couch and find the lists of what we voted for.  Instead I’ll just try to remember.

Mock Caldecott:

Winner: Silent Music

Honors: A River of Words, What to do About Alice, and Wabi Sabi

Silent Music and A River of Words were very close in points, which would of course not fly in the real committee.  Silent Music didn’t really grab me, but I liked all the others (and swooned a little over various illustrations in Wabi Sabi and A River of Words).

Mock Printz:

Winner: Little Brother

Honors: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and My Most Excellent Year

Frankie was my personal favorite from the bunch we read – although not my favorite for the award – so I was pleased to see she did well.  I certainly liked the others, but I don’t know how well their literary merit would stand up for the committee.  They’re definitely all good books, though, and highly recommendable.

My reading has been pretty sluggish lately – I feel like I’m plodding through things even though I like them – like Eva Ibbotson’s latest, The Dragonfly Pool, and now Evil Genius.  Usually when I’m supposed to be doing classwork, I fly through books and can’t put them down. Very curious.

Thanksgiving was the traditional and oh-so-delicious dinner, plus tequila and salsa dancing.  In our living room.  Yeah.

Who said it could be December?  This is my last week of classes.  Eep.

I need some audio book recommendations.  Here’s what I’ve already listened to.  I have three or four on hold, but I’m creeping up the list with painful slowness.  I might even have to browse the shelves today – shocking.  I’m almost at the end of The Off Season, and I’d hate to be caught without something to listen to.

Before I started using Goodreads for class reviews, I had a pretty simple way of counting the books I read.  Things like picture books and short non-fiction never made the list – things I could down in an hour or less.  Now I can’t figure out quite where the line is, and my November list at Goodreads is outrageous.  Do I count Judy Moody if I read it in one sitting?  I could start separate lists for kids, YA, and grownup, but sometimes the lines are so ambiguous, and there isn’t anything to be gained by it.  Even if I’m only keeping the lists for my own list-making satisfaction.  Oh well.  I added 35 books to my “read” shelf in November.

I just realized that January’s Mock Printz is suddenly much closer.  I’m not even sure how many I have left to read.

Only 5 more to go – and I’m really close to the end of Sunrise Over Fallujah.  Obviously I’m not too taken with it since I haven’t bothered to figure out how it ends.  I can’t tell how much my reluctance is just my lack of fondness for war stories and how much is the actual quality of writing.  I can’t put my finger on anything wrong with it – but an excellent book, no matter what the subject matter, shouldn’t be so easy to ignore.  If I can get engrossed in a book about spiders, with incredible close-up photos of hairy tarantulas, then I should be able to get into a good war story.  Little Brother, for instance, make all the technology sound fascinating – but really I could care less about technology in general.  An excellent book is more than the subject matter.

But out of what I’ve finished, there are a lot of close ties.  I thought Madapple was good, but not quite in the realm of the others.  I really enjoyed My Most Excellent Year, and it’s dripping with appeal, as is Little Brother – but they almost seem too fun to win awards.  Not that fun books can’t/don’t win awards, but sometimes it’s hard to evaluate the quality of writing for a super entertaining book, because you’re so caught up in it.  Which is maybe why they should win awards.  The others I’ve read are all excellent – really, I would be happy to see ANY of the books I’ve finished win an award.

Which starts me thinking about all the other books that didn’t make our discussion list – because really, it’s impossible for us ordinary mortals to read them all.  I thought Pretty Monsters was absolutely top-notch – and OF COURSE Octavian Nothing.  I don’t see anything in the criteria or eligibility prohibiting a collection with previously published stories, or any admonition against sequels that may or may not stand on their own.  Given that Dreamquake got an honor last year, I would consider volume two of Octavian just as eligible as volume one.  Dreamquake took some awesome concentration to decode the characters and issues and context – Octavian wouldn’t be any more difficult.  The Hunger Games has gotten a lot of attention, but I think it fits into the same category as Little Brother and My Most Excellent Year.

Hmm, now I’m digging around for other Printz contenders – very distracting.  I’m a big fan of the Printz – there’s always an excellent variety, plus the award is still new enough that you can read your way through all the winners and honor books without dying of exhaustion.  There are only two winners I haven’t read – Postcards from No Man’s Land and A Step From Heaven.

Well, this has been fun – but it hasn’t gotten my homework done.

I’ve decided, a little belatedly, that September is Mystery Month.  Yeah, yeah, it’s almost over – but it turns out I’m reading a lot of mysteries this fall.  I got on a kick with the Vicky Bliss series, and then I started listening to Maisie Dobbs – she makes excellent company while baking a pan of brownies – and then I dove into Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, on Julia’s recommendation.  All in all, a lot more mysteries than I usually digest in one month, and with two Vicky Bliss and a handful of Maisie and Sister Pelagia left, October might be Mystery Month, Part 2 – unless, of course I get sick of them.

If I do get sick of them, I have a nice list of YA titles to keep me busy – I just signed up for a Mock Printz.  It’s not until January, but it’s never too early to start reading.  I’ve already read (and pugned, as Frankie would say) 3 of the 11 titles.  Here’s the list for 2009, with links to my thoughts on the ones I’ve already read:

Some of these I’ve heard good things about and I had in the back of my mind to read, and some I’d never heard of.  So at the very least it will broaden my reading for the year.  Last year’s Mock Printz was remarkably unsuccessful in choosing the winner or any honor books – we read only one of the five honorees (Your Own Sylvia). So far this year, I think my favorite is Jenna Fox.  I ordered a copy of Paper Towns with an Amazon gift card, so I’m waiting for that to show up.  But where is Octavian Nothing, Volume 2?  From all accounts it’s a worthy sequel, and we had The Pox Party on the mock list 2 years ago.  I was looking forward to a few rousing arguments about it.

Good grief, it’s almost 4 months until we meet and I’m already spending too much time thinking about it.  Maybe I can distract myself with a nice warm cup of coffee and a mystery.

Oh, and talk about a first day of autumn – I’m bundled up, my toes are cold even in socks, I’m craving hot beverages, the air is crisp and fally, it’s cloudy one minute and sunny the next, and – good grief – there are a few leaves on the lawn.  The weather’s sure not wasting any time.

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